Climbing stairs might not seem so great when you're trying to clean up a cluttered house or trudging to get to work. But taking the stairs is an age-old fitness tip that has serious benefits. Whether you consciously take the stairs in your building or you hit the stair climber at the gym, you're getting lots of cardio, strength and flexibility benefits. Of course, you might also finally get the laundry put away -- bonus!
When you don't get enough exercise, your heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood throughout your body. Just like any muscle in your body, it needs exercise to stay fit and healthy. Taking the stairs or using a stair climber machine helps elevate your heart rate, which makes it a cardio activity. Making the stairs a habit can contribute to a healthier heart, which means you'll have the stamina to do more than just get to the top of the stairs while lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Body-weight exercises are some of the most effective moves for toning your muscles. Put one foot on a step and you'll notice that you're in a position not unlike a lunge. As you push off each leg to continue climbing, you bear weight on each leg, helping to strengthen the glutes and thighs while you head upstairs. Extra points if you're carrying a load of laundry or a stack of files for added "resistance."
While you shouldn't expect to drop 10 pounds just because you've swapped the elevator for the stairs, it will burn calories. And since you lose weight by burning more calories than you consume, climbing stairs can add to a healthy weight-loss program. What's more, it might make for better health decisions throughout the day. Take the stairs and you might find yourself choosing the salad over the burger or biking home instead of driving -- all of those little choices can add up to a healthier lifestyle and weight loss over all.
Aside from simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator, you can add lunges while you climb -- just hang onto the handrail. While it takes more calories to climb up stairs, climbing down stairs works different muscle groups and is still valuable exercise. You might find yourself out of breath at first. If this happens, take a break and climb again. Over time, you'll find you have more stamina and are a total stair-climbing champ.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.